How can I support my child right now?
Many parents are struggling to know how best to support their children through the on-going effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Childhood is the time when we should learn that the world is safe enough and an exciting place to live. Children develop and grow as their physical and emotional needs are met by their parents. They learn that there are fun risks worth taking whilst our parents provide a safety net of support as we grow and learn new things. Taking the risk of falling over, in order to learn to walk. Taking the risk of tripping in order to learn to run. Knowing that our parents will comfort and help if we need it.
Sometimes childhoods are sadly interrupted by the trauma of abuse, illness, death of a close relative, relationship breakdown, addiction in families, poverty, oppression, injury, violence and many other causes. Trust needs to be re-built for these children. Trust in adults, trust in families, trust in authority figures and trust that they will be able to get their needs met as they grow and mature into adulthood. During this pandemic, a generation of children are experiencing fear and anxiety that tells them that the world is not a safe enough place. So as the adults in this generation, as the parents and as professionals working to support the emotional health of children and young people we need to ready ourselves to help our children process the events of 2020 safely.
Your child may be experiencing low to extreme levels of anxiety. They may be waking in the night, or struggling to sleep. They may be lethargic and lacking in energy or drive to do anything. They may be panic stricken and terrified to leave your front door. Other children may display much less obvious signs of unease, such as needing more reassurance than usual, or taking longer to settle at night. One of my children is protecting herself by not watching any TV that is remotely frightening.
Each child and young person has had a different experience of this pandemic. Some children's parents have died as a result of Covid 19 complications, perhaps without being allowed to say goodbye. Others are grieving close family members or friends. Children have watched their parents leave to go to work in Key worker roles, terrified that they will catch the virus and die. Many children may not have experienced the devastation of death in their family but are suffering with fear of death as they hear about global death tolls and widespread measures to contain this powerful enemy.
All this sounds so depressing. Well, it is a gloomy position that we find ourselves in. And that is also part of our problem at the moment. We are used to having some level of foresight into the future. We have things we are looking forward to, small things like visiting friends and bigger things like taking a holiday. But right now nothing seems certain, we are hoping children and young people will return to schools and colleges in September, but there seems to be no guarantee. Many are experiencing redundancy, and job insecurity and so as adults we may be passing on our anxiety and worry about the future to our children.
How do we bring hope and reassurance into our children's lives at the moment? Hope is such a powerful emotion. It carries us forwards into tricky situations with the pull of good things coming our way. It empowers us to face uncertainty with the belief that we are strong and can do hard things. Our challenge is to bring hope and resilience into our families at this time. I love the daily metaphor of the sunrise occurring each day after the darkness of night. Or the wild flowers that are springing up in ruined areas of our garden where we have sown wild flower seeds.
HOW CAN I HELP MY CHILD/TEENAGER? Tips for supporting your family.
1 Give your children as much of your time and attention as you can? Be led by them, so if your daughter loves riding her bike, plan bike rides together. If they like movies, sit and snuggle and share a movie together. Give them room to play and be alongside as they play. Ask them, "what shall I do in this game?" let them instruct you. Play is the natural language of children and even as adults we need 'play' in our lives for our emotional well-being. So find ways to be playful and to encourage play in your homes. Get involved in the play, as your child sees you relax and play, this will encourage them that 'all is well with you' and this gives them permission to be the child and let you be the adult.
2 Give room for your children to talk and ask questions about the pandemic. Bedtime is not a good time for thinking about difficult things. We are tired, we can't think straight and the worries may prevent sleep or cause nightmares. Pick another time in the day to check in with your son or daughter and ask how they are getting on. Have they any questions? Give them permission and space to chat and ask. They may not want to, but it is good to give space. If they do bring up their worries, accept them. "Wow, what a lot of worries. That sounds tricky to cope with". "Charlie, that sounds scary." "I can see you are sad and worried about that". Acknowledging and accepting our children's feelings validates them and even that process of being heard can lower the feelings of anxiety as those feelings are no longer locked up inside of them but shared with a loving parent.
3 Teach your child ways to self-soothe. Take a moment to teach them how to breath slowly -breathing out their panic and breathing in peace. Create a soothing box with items to soothe the 5 senses, something that smells lovely, like lavender, a soft blanket or toy that is soothing to touch, a favourite book or photo. Modelling self-soothing safely enables them to take steps themselves to create calm and peace.
4 Get moving. Find ways to get outside and get some exercise. This will help improve mood and also improve general well-being. It can also be fun and enjoyable and create a focus for the family. Getting outside helps shift our perspective and enables our bodies to flush out the anxiety chemicals in our bodies.
5 Get creating - give opportunities for art, story writing, lego creating and imaginative play. This is where your child will show you what is going on inside of them and gives them a safe way to let out their fears and worries.
6 Get further help if needed. If you are concerned about your child's well-being chat to your GP to see what help and support is available.
I will be starting a Child parent relationship therapy CPRT course soon. Register your interest now to book your place. It is a 10 week course that will be on Zoom. CPRT is an effective way to support your child through play sessions with you. I also have Play Therapy and Counselling sessions available based in Haywards Heath.